Nutrition Articles

The Key to Establishing a Healthy Lifestyle

WFL Week 1

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Finally-- here it is. You have been waiting to hear these words for years. The key to establishing life-long healthy habits! It's not a shake, a supplement, or an exercise gizmo. You have it already- right at your fingertips.

"I feel the most important action one can take when trying to lose weight or just make improvements to their diet is to keep a food diary," says SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand. "Yes, it takes time to write down everything consumed during the day, but this in itself can curtail overeating and be vital for self-assessment and monitoring. Today, it is easier than ever with computer-based tools such as Sparkpeople's food tracker. A few clicks, and your results are known immediately!"

Studies show that people who keep food journals lose more weight and maintain their weight more easily in the long run. The National Weight Control Registry-– an ongoing research project tracking more than 3,000 people who’ve lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for five years– found that keeping a food journal is the one strategy used by the majority of successful dieters. Using a food journal is also helpful for those just looking to improve their eating habits. By tracking your foods, you'll see if you're eating too much, not enough, or lacking important nutrients like calcium or iron. This is why the Nutrition Tracker plays such a key role in the SparkPeople program.

Why keep a food journal?
  • Tracking the food we consume forces us to take responsibility for our food choices. It shows what we're really eating.
  • An accurate food journal helps us see eating patterns, giving us insight into when and why we eat.
  • Monitoring the foods we eat helps us estimate calorie intake, so we can make adjustments, by eating less or exercising more.
If you're beginning a program to change your habits, you may want to start with a baseline food journal that keeps track of a "typical" week of food choices and exercise. This way, you'll have a better handle on what you need to work on-- problem times or situations, circumstances that make it difficult to eat healthy, and so on. The level of detail you record depends on your goals, but some possible things to jot down include:
  • What you eat and how much you eat: You can estimate portions, but be honest and be thorough-- don't forget items such as candy, condiments, etc. Record as you go to ensure accuracy.
  • When and where you eat: Time of day, how long you were eating, if you ate in a fast-food restaurant or the company cafeteria, etc.
  • Who you were with and any other activity you were involved in: Were you reading or watching TV, or having brunch with your best friend?
  • Your mood while eating: Were you bored, frustrated, happy? This may tell you whether you engage in emotional eating—eating triggered by mood, not hunger.
  • Any exercise you did, including the activity, length and intensity, and estimate of calories burned.
  • Any special categories for which you want to monitor consumption, such as carbohydrates, fat, or fiber content.
Once you have a baseline journal, you can set priorities for what to work on. Do you eat well when eating by yourself, but go overboard when you're with friends? Does the routine of a workday keep you in line, while the freedom of the weekend weakens your willpower? Do you subsist on convenience foods that are heavy on processing but light on nutrients and real taste? Important things to consider include:
  • What is your real motivation for eating? Are you truly hungry when you eat or are you eating for emotional reasons?
  • Do you eat well-balanced meals with reasonable serving sizes? If not, map out the changes you’d like to make.
  • Do you eat at appropriate intervals, or do you eat a little and then overindulge later? It may seem counterintuitive, but eating smaller amounts more often may keep your energy high, and prevent overeating.
A food journal allows you to compare your habits to the healthy habits recommended by experts: getting 25 grams of fiber a day, limiting fat intake to 35 percent of your total calorie intake, and consuming fewer calories than your body burns daily. You can then continue to track what’s important to you—whether it involves elaborate detail or very simple information.
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